Founders Lodge is quite different from your typically bigger Game Lodge. It’s extremely welcoming, friendly, warm and pleasant. The rooms are filled with paintings, relics and artifacts that Mr. Gardiner has collected over the years, and his love for contemporary art as well as the classics is evident on the walls. You really feel as though you’re in his home, where pictures of himself with celebrities like Tiger Woods bear testament to this man’s great legacy. But it’s not just the lodge itself that makes this property so unique, it’s its location too. To explain, Founders Lodge is on its own fenced-in reserve, free from predators but with an abundance of plains game roaming nearby.
This makes guided walks or even morning trail runs on the 4000H a property possible – activities not normally on offer within such close proximity to lions and elephants-and with full traversing rights into Shamwari, guests have the best of both worlds. And so my stay at Founders Lodge began with an introduction to Wayne and Vicky, the lodge’s management team and hosts extrodinaire. You can’t help but be drawn to Wayne’s infectious personality, and he won’t mind telling you that his lovely wife Vicky keeps him on a tight leash. Our late afternoon arrival had meant that there was just time to have a sneak peak around before freshening up and meeting in the bar for pre-dinner drinks. Founders Lodge operates on an all-inclusive basis and so once you’ve checked in you can put your wallet away. Adrian Gardiner is a lover of all things South African and he carries this love of local all the way through to the offerings on the menu.
Blesbok Shank was the main course tonight, a genuine bosveld meal paired with a fine South African red. Wayne joined us for dinner and prepped us for the day ahead, and so with maagies vol, we slipped off to bed. The wake-up call came too soon. I peeled myself out of the oversized bed and met the rest of the crew for coffee at 05:45am. We left the lodge at 06:00am, and this in turn to catch the best of the morning’s game viewing. Our ranger was Phillip, a 15 year veteran of the area, but a man so excited by the bush you would swear this was his first game drive. We jumped into the open vehicle, travelled 50 metres up the road, and drove through the gate into Big 5 country. Phillip knows everything and while he was talking us through the history of the area and what the land looked like before Adrian Gardiner got his hands on it, we spotted two lions on a hill Then a warthog, nonchalantly bouncing along with its tail bolt upright, oblivious to the cats up ahead.
The lions saw the poor warthog and in front of our eyes, the chase was on. Warthog stood no chance. Not heeding its squeals for mercy, one lioness clamped her jaws around the warthog’s throat and proceeded to choke the tusked pig to death. Surprisingly, death takes longer than expected when you have teeth sticking into your neck. Phillip pulled our vehicle up to within a few metres of the slaughterhouse and we watched for 15 minutes as the frantic warthog tried in vain to escape the lion’s death-grip. Eventually its thrashing slowed down and blood began seeping from its eyes. With hearts racing we left the scene… one or two passengers even shed a tear, unmindful of how cruel the African bush can be.
The rest of the game drive sort of paled in comparison to witnessing a kill, but we took in magnificent sightings of giraffe and rhinos, zebras and even the elusive honey-badger (Phillip went mental with excitement, this was his first honey-badger sighting in 15 years). At 09:30 we were due to head back to the lodge for breakfast… but instead detoured past and drove into a ravine on the Founders reserve. Taking guests into a Utopian setting for a bush breakfast is just another way that the staff embrace oneness with nature. Back at the lodge and time for a bit of mid-morning relaxation on the verandah. The plains stretch out as far as the eye can see, and the odd giraffe is visible in the distance.
You’ll probably doze off to the silence of the land, but if you prefer, jump into the pristine pool and watch game from this vantage point. Fitness fanatics can work out in the gym. Or even play snooker on the full-size table. Lunchtime arrived and again it was an all South African affair. We had traditional Cape Malay pickled fish, showing us once again that you can’t escape Adrian’s love of local tastes and cultures. Your time at Founders Lodge can be tailored to suite your preferences. Whether you’d prefer an afternoon game drive or a picnic under a tree, your wishes will be catered to. One couple chose to stay out in the bush for the entire day and so a lunch was packed into the game vehicle and we never saw them again until that evening.
We, however, opted for an afternoon walkthrough the reserve to learn a little more about the area’s flora. The Eastern Cape is the only province in South Africa that contains five of South Africa’s seven biomes, and it was interesting to learn how the floral kingdom symbiotically coexists with itself in this truly unique landscape. We walked as far as ‘Adrian’s Bench”, a bench built on a ridge where Adrian and his wife used to sit for hours admiring the view. As the sun began to sink below the horizon, we headed back for a shower and then another feast in the opulent dining room. On the menu tonight… African Sweetpotato and Coconut Soup, Biltong Carpaccio Salad, Karoo Lamb Rump and a Baked Yoghurt dessert – paired with a wine to suit each course. These home-grown flavours are a signature at Founders Lodge – international guests especially will delight at the carefully selected array of local tastes.
Our final night ended as any great bush experience should. Drinks around the fire in the lodge’s boutique boma. Managers Wayne and Vicky kept us well entertained, well into the night. The personal nature extended to guests at Founders Lodge is beyond comparison. Wayne reminded me of Chuck Norris, a rugged bush man who takes great pride in entertaining his guests. His wife, Vicky, completes this managerial pair and is the brains behind the smooth running of the lodge. Phillip the ranger joined us for dinner (another opportunity to spread his knowledge) and we were even visited by Adrian himself for breakfast on our final morning, accompanied by his beautiful wife Shirleyanne.
The couple live in Port Elizabeth, and so the fact that they made the nearly two hour journey just to share breakfast with their guests was just another indication of that man’s passion for personal attention. A proud family heritage is exhibited to all who stay here and an unavoidable cliche is to describe Founders Lodge as a home away from home. But a home uniquely positioned to offer the full Big 5 experience as well as the opportunity to take an unhindered walkthrough the wild South African bush. Sophistication, contemporary art, personal attention… Founders Lodge is in a class of its own.